2015 Bavarian State Exhibition
The Emperor’s Arrival
Napoleon, Emperor of the French, set foot on Bavarian soil for the first time on October 6, 1805. Following more than ten years of war, the people were hoping for peace from him. Their hopes would be dashed. Despite many armistice agreements and peace settlements, the Napoleonic era was a period of constant warring. It was also a period of territorial reorganization of Europe: The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation ceased to exist and sovereign states emerged.
Bavaria’s central location made it an object of desire for both France and Austria. Bavaria and France were allies for eight years from the Treaty of Bogenhausen of 1805 to the Treaty of Ried of 1813 with which Bavaria allied itself with Austria. The years with Napoleon were decisive for Bavaria as it entered the modern era. Bavaria became a kingdom: sovereign, with a modern constitution and a unified realm. The price for its military alliance with Napoleon was the death of over 50 000 Bavarian soldiers on battlefields in Prussia, Russia and France until the Congress of Vienna put an end to the wars and ushered in the beginning of a new order.
The Path to the Alliance
Napoleon’s rise took place on battlefields. He was a child of the French Revolution. Nevertheless, he crowned himself Emperor of the French in 1804. A new ruler, Maximilian Joseph von Pfalz-Zweibrücken-Birkenfeld, had reigned in the Electorate of Bavaria since 1799. He reformed his realm domestically and attempted to protect it throughout the turbulent times. Bavaria was allied with Austria until 1805.
France was at war against Austria and its allies. French troops had been moving through the realm since 1796. The Palatinate, the Bavarian monarchs’ ancestral homeland, had been lost. Bavaria and France had established contact in 1801 and the alliance was forged four years later with the Treaty of Bogenhausen. The Elector of Bavaria became king. The price for this was the marriage of the King of Bavaria’s daughter to Napoleon’s stepson. Bavaria
In the Emperor’s Wake
Napoleon advanced from victory to victory. His new ally Bavaria marched alongside him on his road to victory. The Austrians were swept out of Bavaria in the fall of 1805; Napoleon defeated the Russian and Austrian armies at Austerlitz on December 2, 1805. Prussia suffered a crushing defeat against Napoleon at Jena and Auerstedt on October 14, 1806. Once again, Bavarian troops were on the victorious side.
Napoleon had absolute power. He gave and he took away. Bavaria lost the territories of the Palatinate on the left bank of the Rhine and the duchies of Zweibrücken and Jülich, and it had to relinquish the territories of the Electoral Palatinate on the right bank of the Rhine to Baden. Nevertheless, Bavaria acquired former ecclesiastical domains, imperial cities and imperial villages in the final decree of the imperial deputation of 1803, an increase of 5000 km2 and 113 000 subjects. In 1808, the Kingdom of Bavaria extended from Kronach in the north to Lake Garda in the south, from Vorarlberg in the west to Passau in the east.
It had gained 17000 km2 and 843000 subjects by the end of the Napoleonic era. In return, Napoleon demanded that Bavaria join the Confederation of the Rhine. This tied Bavaria to France entirely in foreign affairs. Domestically, it was able to pursue its reform policies.
Not Everyone Rejoiced
Napoleon was considered to be an agent of the French Revolution. European monarchs feared Jacobin coups; the church viewed him as the Antichrist. The dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation gave rise to entirely new circumstances. Monasteries were abolished, the church lost its secular power, and imperial institutions no longer existed. Napoleon was polarizing: Supporters and opponents, modernizers and losers vied with one another. Opinions were divided in the Bavarian royal house, too.
The High Price: Bavaria Bled Dry
In its alliance with Napoleon, the Bavarians enjoyed military successes but the populace paid a high price. Allied and enemy armies had been moving through the realm since the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars. They left behind a trail of devastation. Requisitions and looting, quartering, and ravaged countryside and fields dominated everyday life. The realm was ruined economically and its subjects were in wretched circumstances. They suffered from starvation and disease, women from rape. Livestock diseases increased their hardship. Discharged soldiers roved through Bavaria even after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. All told, the populace had to endure twenty years of war.
Everything for the Army
In the event of war, Bavaria had to provide Napoleon with 30 000 soldiers. The alliance was invoked for the first time in 1805, followed by the campaigns against Prussia and Russia in 1806-07, against Austria in 1809, against Russia again in 1812 and against the Prussian-Russian coalition once again in the spring of 1813.
Soldiers had to be recruited, equipped and trained. The army reform of 1804-05 was an attempt to meet these demands. Paid mercenaries became soldiers who had sworn allegiance to king and country. The king was commander-in-chief.
Universal military service was introduced, albeit with numerous exceptions. Advancement in the army was linked to performance. Orders and decorations cemented the bond between soldiers and sovereign. The king founded the Military Order of Max Joseph on March 1, 1806.
Warfare changed radically in the Napoleonic era. The often undertrained soldiers necessitated new tactics. The linear formation was broken up. Troops advanced in columns. Speed, flexibility and close order formations were the features of Napoleonic warfare. Napoleon strove to destroy his opponents. Every engagement became a decisive battle. He was a master of breaking through enemy lines.
Any frontal attack was avoided. Instead, Napoleon launched attacks at unexpected positions with all his strength. Artillery grew in importance. It opened the action, blasting holes in the opposing line. Infantry and cavalry advanced into these gaps.
Battles were fought from first light until nightfall. The commander followed the action from an elevated position. Dispatch riders brought him reports. Napoleon had a reputation for entering the fray himself at decisive moments. He put himself in harm's way more than once.
Rifts in the Alliance
The first rifts in the alliance between Napoleon and Bavaria appeared in 1809. Austria launched a new war against France. A rebellion in then-Bavarian Tyrol tied down Bavarian and French troops. Napoleon experienced his first defeat: He lost the Battle of Aspern. But he prevailed over Austria once again at Wagram. Help came at the last minute when the Bavarians under General Wrede arrived. It was not a brilliant victory. Napoleon capitalized greatly on it, though: He married the emperor’s daughter Marie Louise – the Austrian emperor became his father-in-law. When this union produced a son, Napoleon was at his high point dynastically.
Bavaria lost nearly all territorial and familial meaning for him, thus bringing the phase of Bavaria’s ascent to an end. Preserving its achievements and maintaining its position in the European power structure became the task at hand.
The Russian Catastrophe
On June 24, 1812, Napoleon crossed the Nemen River on the border between Poland and Russia with 450 000 soldiers. Over 30 000 Bavarian soldiers were members of this army, the largest hitherto in world history. Very few of them survived. The majority lost their lives to starvation, thirst, disease, and extreme heat and cold. The horses, indispensable for warfare in that day, did not tolerate the green fodder and perished by the hundreds of thousands. The supply of food for humans and feed for animals was catastrophic.
In August, the Bavarians fought their first battle near Polotsk. Just over 9000 soldiers were fit for action. The victory was hard fought and Polotsk became a “Bavarian grave”.
The Bavarian cavalry under the command of Eugène de Beauharnais proceeded with Napoleon to Moscow. They took part in the deadly Battle of Borodino on September 7. The army was largely annihilated. In Moscow, Napoleon hoped for a peace settlement with the tsar. Alexander I refused to parley at all, though. Late in the year, Napoleon withdrew from Moscow; his army got caught in the Russian winter. The crossing of the Berezina turned into a struggle for life and death. All in all, fewer than 3000 Bavarian soldiers survived the invasion of Russia.
Bavaria had to reorient itself after Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia. On October 8, 1813, General Wrede signed the Treaty of Ried, thus terminating Bavaria’s alliance with France. General Wrede commanded the Bavarian- Austrian army then. Near Hanau, he came up against his former commander-in-chief, retreating after the Battle of Nations at Leipzig: Wrede fought against Napoleon, proving that Bavaria had been serious about shifting its alliance.
Europe rose up against Napoleon. The Allies launched their campaign against France in 1813. Bavarian troops fought at Brienne, Bar-sur-Aube and Arcis-sur-Aube. The Allied army entered Paris on April 2, 1814.
The victorious powers then sought to reorganize Europe. Bavaria had to defend its position at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. It succeeded: Bavaria remained sovereign and retained its territory but the realm was devastated economically. The burdens of the war, the impacts of the Continental System, and the turbulent times had led to a decline of agriculture and trade. The failed harvest of 1816 did the rest.
And the great Frenchman? Napoleon was defeated once and for all at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815. Bavaria provided 60 000 men, its hitherto strongest army, for the fight against Napoleon. The Bavarian army did not, however, take part in the battle itself.
The Bavarian Legend of Napoleon
The memory of the Napoleonic era in Bavaria is ambivalent. The realm had the victor Napoleon to thank for its elevation to a kingdom and transformation into a modern state. After Napoleon’s defeat, however, Bavaria owed for all that to a vanquished man. Prussia’s heyday began with Napoleon’s fall in 1813. Bavaria’s ended.
The Prussian-German national movement viewed Napoleon as a catastrophe. Prussia came to be regarded as Germany’s liberator from Napoleon.
Bavaria attempted to cast its alliance with Napoleon in a different light. Crown prince and future king Ludwig interpreted the Bavarian army’s participation in the invasion of Russia as a sacrifice for the fatherland. The obelisk he initiated in Munich memorializes the “thirty thousand Bavarians who met their deaths in the Russian war” and points out, “They also died to liberate the fatherland.” King Ludwig I dedicated the Hall of Liberation in Kelheim to victory of all Germans over Napoleon. The dedication ceremony was held on October 18, 1863, the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Nations at Leipzig.
Veterans cultivated the legend of the great military commander Napoleon. Although the war dead had not been forgotten, veterans were proclaiming their pride in their participation in the Napoleonic wars when they founded associations that kept alive and honored their memory.
Translation: Krister G.E. Johnson M.A.